Friday, May 23, 2014

'The Prayer Box' by Lisa Wingate

The Prayer Box
When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola's rambling Victorian house.Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola's walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola's youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper--the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.

Tandi Reese discovers the body of her 91-year-old landlady, Iola Anne Poole, who'd quietly passed away in bed. Worried about the future for herself and her children, Tandi agrees to clean out the old lady's big old house in return for continued board at her cottage. One day, she makes a stunning discovery. Iola had left a floor to ceiling stack of boxes, each full of hand-written prayers from her girlhood in the 1930s to shortly before her death. The content of those historical letters helps Tandi to turn her own life around.

The story was a little slow to get moving but I still enjoyed it because Tandi's kids, Zoey and TJ, reminded me of my own two youngest and Iola's house was just like an old mansion my sister and nephews used to rent a wing of. I think I was about one quarter through before Tandi discovered the prayer boxes. Until then, the story was all about clearing out rubbish and reflections on the heroine's dysfunctional past. I found myself growing irritated with Tandi for getting out of a situation with one controlling man who treated her like a possession to walk straight into something similar in her new place. As her sister, Gina, said, 'You tend to go for tall, dark and hard to manage.' Yet as we get deeper into the pages of the book, we grow to understand why she fell into that pattern and come to see that judgment (yeah, from people like me) is not what she needs, but rather acceptance and love in the truest sense of the word. So it's one of those powerful books which convicts the reader.

Iola Poole's boxes really drew me into the story. What a historical treasure. Although dead at the start, Iola turned out to be one of the best examples of a true Christian character I've come across. She kept a low profile, shunned by several people, but did good secretly from a heart filled with generosity, expecting no credit whatsoever. She's also a great example for any type of author. Her writing was shown to nobody in her lifetime, but how life-changing it turned out to be posthumously for one young woman and several other people. (Well, maybe that's a bit illusory in this case, as Iola Poole's writing was really penned by Lisa Wingate and intended for the wider market, but the point still stands)

It's hard not to love Tandi by the end of the book. She's a big-hearted heroine with a sort of Erin Brockovich appeal about her, in her background and eventual mission. The romantic element turned out to be really sweet. One of the best messages for all to take away from this book is "Other people's judgment doesn't have any power unless you offer yourself up for trial. Remember you are God's, not theirs" followed by Tandi's revelation, "I'd offered myself for trial my whole life, determining myself by what people said about me."

4.5 stars

The Prayer Box available from Amazon

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